Should we even have a Swedish community in Vancouver?

shs-logoYou should never write an email or a blog entry when you are angry or disappointed. You should probably even sleep on it. The problem is that the lack of support for the Sweden House Society in Vancouver is keeping me awake at night, so sleeping on it would not exactly solve anything.

However, I believe in avoiding blame games and in being constructive. Instead of using this blog entry for mad ranting, I just want to ask a few questions and have you consider a few facts about volunteering and the time required to keep the Swedish investments in the Scandinavian Centre (in terms of time and money spent over the last 18 years since the centre was bought) intact and safe for future generations. And yeah, for those of you who don’t know, Sweden House Society owns 22.5% of the Scandinavian Centre in Burnaby. We have a fund of ca $300,000 CDN to support a building, which is in OK shape, but has structural problems and constantly needs updating. Sweden House is an umbrella organisation to which all the major Swedish organisations belong to. If you are a member of the Swedish Cultural Society, SWEA Vancouver, The Runeberg Order, The Runeberg Choir, Finlandssvenska klubben, Svenska Skolan, Northshore Innebandy Society or The Swedish Resthome, this means that you also are a member of the Swedish House Society. But why should you care?

Currently, there seems to be very little interest among people of Swedish background to step up and take on a board position involving work at the Sweden House Society or the Scandinavian Centre. The first logical question is should we even have a Swedish Community in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland? I mean, every man (or woman) for himself, right? Why not just concentrate on the organisation you belong to and hope that someone else will take care of the centre? After all, that approach seems to have worked this far.

Unfortunately, I have to inform you that that attitude no longer is working. I have lost count of how many people I have asked to commit some time and energy to Sweden House this year. Tonight we have our AGM, and I have not found a new chair, vice chair or a vice treasurer. Because of family reasons and over commitment I have to step down, so I need a few people to take over. This almost fills me with dread; I have never been in a similar situation! Abandoning a ship without a captain is not my forte.

With the exception of a small select group of dedicated individuals, who you find on the boards of Sweden House and all the member organisations (you are all completely off the hook here!) many people seem to see board work as a bullet best to be dodged. But let’s just for a moment contemplate what will happen of we give up Sweden House and the joint work we do together, what would happen?

Well, maybe the following…

  • There would be no Swedish Room at the centre for board meetings or events.
  • Swedish School would have to go back to rely on the school taking place in the basement of someone’s house.
  • There would be no community area that could host Crayfish parties, Santa Lucia celebrations or the annual Swedish Christmas market.
  • Swedish movie nights would be hosted by individuals instead of at the centre.
  • There would be no Swedish Library, similar to the one you find in the Swedish Room, or the one that Swedish School can wheel out every time the school takes place.
  • There would be no Swedish presence at the Midsummer Festival.

Are you OK with that? But because if the answer is yes, then I suggest that we simply scrap Sweden House Society and go back to organising events in parks, basements and living rooms. After all, that’s what the Swedes did before we had access to the Scandinavian  Centre. It could work again, right?

I have no time. I work and have children living at home. Common arguments why people do not contribute time to volunteering. But the same people typically don’t mind the low rates to keep their kids in Swedish School or to attend an event.  Swedish School is a great example, where the pub night raises money towards the annual camp. Still, the parents do not always seem to have time to even come to the event to support a fundraiser that keep the price low and saves their own money.

A few facts to consider…

People living in Canada, aged 18-49 years watch an average of 19 hours of TV per week and spend 23 hours online – AT HOME!

In light of this, could you not please consider turning off the TV and attending one board meeting per month? Maybe even spend a few more hours in helping out with an event or writing a newsletter? Our current board members are getting older and need support or want to be replaced.

We have a lot of tough decisions to make tonight at the AGM of the Sweden House Society. What are your opinions about this? This is your chance to speak up. Should this small group of a select few who are running all the different Swedish activities in the Lower Mainland and who constitute the backbone of the Swedish community, give up because you don’t think it is important? We need to know.

It is not what you say, but what you do that counts. Time for some action, Swedish people of Vancouver! At the centre we are known as the house which never steps up to the plate in joint events such as Midsummer or upkeep on the building, because of the Swedes unwillingness to volunteer.

I refuse to believe this. I know so many of you. The last 13 years I have worked beside many of you. You have become my friends and my family. This unwillingness to help out running the Sweden House Society is either a coincidental fluke, or an indication of that we need to work smarter and more effectively. Should we introduce Skype meetings that take an hour at home late at night after the kids have quieted down, instead of driving to the centre from all over to spend two hours at the centre? Maybe by joining Sweden House Society with the Swedish Cultural Society and Swedish School? Maybe by a thorough survey assessing what families want to see happening at the centre, to better address your needs?

What do you think? Does the Swedish community in Vancouver play a role in your life? Should we keep it alive? If the answer is yes, then please consider what that would entail in terms of our own time and commitment. During the last 20 years, we have run the same volunteers into the ground and need fresh blood. It is a time for a new generation to take over.

Please consider giving your feedback in the mini-survey below.

Lena Normén-Younger

President of the Sweden House Society

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